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18 December 2017

Graham Linehan Q&A: “Writing Father Ted was like being hooked up to a drip full of endorphins“

The comedy writer on Stephen King novels, Nazi hunters, and his rejected sitcom theme tune.

By New Statesman

Graham Linehan, 49, grew up in Dublin. With Arthur Mathews, he wrote sketches for programmes such as “The Fast Show”, for which they created the characters Ted and Ralph. Linehan followed his and Mathews’s sitcom “Father Ted” (1995-98) with projects including “Black Books”, “The IT Crowd” and “Motherland”, written with his wife, Helen, and Sharon Horgan.

What’s your earliest memory?

Being naughty by eating jam out of the jar, while at some sort of nursery in someone’s home. I gave that moment to Father Ted’s Eoin McLove and Father Dougal eventually. “Don’t eat jam out of the jar!”

Who is your hero?

Stephen King. His early novels made school bearable.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

The opening chapters of The Information by James Gleick. When it got into the code breakers and beyond, my poor brain had to escape through a hatch – but the stuff on language at the start is astounding.

What political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

Nazi hunters. Hanns Alexander apparently drove around with the body of a dead Nazi strapped to his car. We need some of that spirit today.

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

They ask me to do it from time to time but I wouldn’t be able to resist telling John Humphrys to apologise for Today’s producers lying to get me on air. Maybe “Ways in which the Today programme harms the national discourse”.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Any time in which global warming was not an imminent threat.

What TV show could you not live without?

The Larry Sanders Show. Golden-age Simpsons. Seinfeld before Larry David left.

Who would paint your portrait?

Daniel Clowes. Or the Hernandez brothers, who do the wonderful comic Love and Rockets.

What’s your theme tune?

“Game of Pricks” by Guided by Voices.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

When we wanted to go with a silly theme tune for Father Ted, Geoffrey Perkins, our producer, said: “Why do you want to make fun of your characters? People will love these characters.” We chose Neil Hannon’s beautiful “Songs of Love” instead.

What single thing would make your life better?

Politicians listening to experts.

When were you happiest?

Writing Father Ted with Arthur Mathews was like being hooked up to a drip full of endorphins. It’s very hard to recapture a moment like that – young, firing on all cylinders, each of us trying to make the other laugh… We even lived together, so this continued into the night, every night, for four years. Arthur may disagree but for me it was heaven.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

This is the only job I can do.

Are we all doomed?

I think the human race is about to go into survival mode, and no one’s faced up to that yet. So, maybe. 

“Motherland” is on BBC iPlayer

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This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special